Tuesday, December 1, 2009


There area I live in is notorious for its high concentration of business bars and other shady underground nightlife. This isn't to say it's seedy or anything, it's actually a very expensive and nice part of town.

A consequence of this is that at intersections all surfaces are completely covered with business cards for various massage parlors and such. I'd be really curious to know the quantities that these cards are ordered in b/c they're literally everywhere.

Anyway, this one is by far my favorite:

I don't know what it says above the phone number, but I think the picture really tells all you need to know.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Apartment

I've been in my new apartment for just over a week now. Of course, this being Korea, nothing works smoothly. As I'd mentioned previously, no one was too keen on informing where I would be moving or how any of it would go down. In addition to the general pleasure that everyone seems to take in depriving me of useful information, there were some personnel changes made at the GHD and I was assigned a new foreign babysitter.

So last Thursday, I go in person over to the GHD to figure out exactly how the moving process will take place the next day. Unfortunately, my GHD person isn't there. "Maybe you forgot that she is not here on Tuesdays and Thursdays?" Yeah, maybe. And maybe you're just baiting me and trying to get me to get angry and flip out.

I'm finally able to contact my GHD person and learn that I just need to have my stuff packed and proved the security code for the movers. Friday I can meet her and she'll provide me info about where I actually need to go to be reunited with my earthly possessions and begin extended habitation.

Friday, I hand over my old keys and receive and address and information about the commuter buses. Everything seems set. I leave that evening to go to dinner with coworkers relatively confident that I actually do have a home. As I pretty much expected, dinner included a bottle of whiskey and I wound up getting dropped off at my new place at about 1AM.

I get on the elevator and it refuses to move. After some confusion I remember that I never learned the words for 'odd' and 'even' and possibly that is the problem here. Enter elevator on opposite side. Bingo! Brandon + whiskey: 1. Korean language: 0

I find my apartment number. There's a banner beside it and posters on the door. I assume this must be b/c it was recently vacated. Seems strange that they advertised it so heavily since I've been scheduled to move here for quite some time. Oh well. I try the key code I was given. Nothing happens. I try it with various combinations of '*' and '#'. I succeed in making it beep angrily at me. Brandon + whiskey: 1. Korean Door: 1.

With no one to consult, I assume that my inability to open the door is probably a function of the whiskey and resolve to stay in the Mojo Hotel I saw next door and try again Saturday morning. The Mojo Hotel doesn't live up the glory of the Mul Hotel. The room is bigger and costs less, but without surround sound or air temperature control in the bathroom, what's the point?

I awaken earlish Saturday and walk out into the garish red light of the 7th floor hallway at the Mojo Hotel. I feel like crap and want to go back to sleep. I go to the apartment and find a security guard at the information desk. He speaks a little English and I explain that I'm couldn't get into my room and ask if he can show me how I need to enter the key code. He asks what room. I tell him. He tells me I can't live there b/c that's the model room. I remember the banners and am angry. I thank him and call the GHD.

I explain the situation to the GHD person.

"Oh, your apartment is #___. Didn't the apartment people in the show you to your actual room when you got there yesterday?"

The most frustrating thing about being here is that there's really nothing to direct anger at. Yelling at this girl or even asking why the hell she would tell me the model apartment will not really accomplish anything. There will be no satisfaction. Instead I just angrily say I will try it out and call back if it doesn't work and hang up.

Turns out the key code did work once I had the right door. And all my stuff was there. Behold:

The kitchen

My bed is in the low loft. I have since learned where trash goes.

My desk is a board stuck in a bookshelf. Perfectly functional, just struck me as odd that desks are sold like that.

The one thing that did make me happy was that my apartment is much higher than the model room I was told. So instead of looking out to see a building, I get this view. All in all, I really like the apartment. As soon as i can figure out where to buy a recliner, I'll be set.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fun with GHD

The GHD are the foreigner babysitters that the company provides. I believe they're subcontracted by my company. I only 'believe' this b/c no one really likes to clearly explain who's in charge of anything. This way they can all deny responsibility for anything until you finally manage to corner everyone who could possibly be responsible and force one of them to accede to doing their job. Anyway, since I'm scheduled to move on Friday, I contacted the GHD to ask how this was going to occur.

The impression I got from the housing manager/personal shopper when he brought me dishes was that he would be coming to the temp apartment this Friday while I was at work and moving everything. I would just go to the new apartment Friday evening and start living there. You might think that someone would verify that this was the case and, you know, tell me that I should be packed Thursday, explain how to get keys to the shopper-dude and how to get keys to my new apartment. Or at least tell me which apartment I'm moving to (I have vague information that it's in the building that I liked previously. Thus, my current plan is to get off work Friday, go to a busy area of Seoul, hope I can find an apartment building I visited once, three months ago, and hope that someone there is expecting a random American to show up and demand a place to live).

Well, I get a response confirming that yes, Friday, shopper-dude will be moving my stuff to my new apartment and I should go there after work. No word on how shopper-dude will be getting into my apartment or where the new one is, but at least I know I need to be pack and clean Thursday. This seems like reasonable progress, and I assume that with a few more emails over the next few days, I might actually have half a clue what's happening.

Then, at about 6:30 (TU) I get a phone call. Since I was in Korean class and didn't recognize the number I just hang it up to make it stop ringing. They call back.

Me: "Hello"
Jim or whatever: "Hello, this is Jim from the GHD. We need you to confirm the color of your dinner table."

Me: "Uh... (dumbfounded silence. My brain tries to run through all the possible slight context shifts or mispronunciations that could turn this sentence into one that makes sense. This is what I do 90% of the time I have to deal w/ the GHD or HR or really just about anyone.) ...what?"

Jim: "The housing manager called me and said we needed to confirm your dinner table. Your usually GHD person already went home, but he said it couldn't wait till tomorrow. What color is the table?"

Me: "Uh...Brown. Wait, why do they need to know that?"

Jim: "I'm not sure. They said they were moving things into your apartment and needed to know about the table."

Me: "Uh... (inner monologue:
normal Brandon: 'That can't be right. I'm not supposed to move till Friday.'
Koreanized Brandon: 'Crap, that totally could be right. They're probably in my temp apartment right now'
normal Brandon: 'What? That makes no sense.'
Koreanized Brandon: 'Exactly.'
fin.) ...I was told that would happen Friday. I haven't packed and don't even know where I would need to go if that's the case."

Jim: "Hmm...I'll call him back and let you know."

About 10 minutes later, Jim calls back.

Jim: "No worries, they're not moving your stuff until Friday. The decorator just needed to know the color of the table."

Me: "Ok, thanks."

So, maybe I don't know where I'll be sleeping 3 nights from now, but there's a reasonably good chance that my coffee pot will match my dining room table.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dodged a Bullet

The apartment I'm staying in has electronic locks. This seems like a good idea. You can carry one of the electronic keys or just use the keypad to unlock the door. It plays a happy little song for you and automatically relocks. How fantastic. The one serious design flaw is that there is no manual backup. Battery runs out, tough crap. (Actually, you can manually unlock it from the inside, so you don't have to worry about burning to death b/c you failed to replace the battery, but there isn't from the outside.)
The mover/shopper/apartment cleaner guy had me enter a new security code the first day and warned me that if the lock battery dies, they have to break the door and I'll have to pay for it. Fair enough. The batteries only have to be changed once or twice a year and I'm only going to be here for 3 weeks. Shouldn't be a problem. If the thing starts screeching, I'll know what to do.

Well, a few days back, I came home, and was greeted by a new song when I entered the code. I paused, thinking 'That's strange, why would anyone want to program the lock to have multiple songs? And why would it have decided to just up and changed today?' Since I didn't really understand why it played a song in the first place (or why the washing machine or any other number of appliances play songs), I didn't worry too much about it. I mean, it was just a different song, not some annoying or alarming sound that would obviously warn you to change the batteries or risk the permanent sealing of your apartment while your away.

As you may have guessed, lock battery alarm design is another area where Korea and I have some slightly different opinions. So this morning I woke up to find my lock would no longer play any song or unlock for me. Fortunately, I had some spare batteries. Even more fortunately, I was on the inside when it died.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fun with the House Manager

One perk that I was unaware of when coming here was that the housing costs that were being covered by the company also included furniture and appliances and such. While this is pretty much awesome, it has led to some awkward situations.

Originally, the plan was to wait till I moved to my full-time apartment before the stuff would be purchased. Well, actually I don't know what the original plan was. In fact, I only found out that furnishings would be supplied when I got a phone call from the GHD (people subcontracted by the company to babysit foreigners) telling me that I could have a couch or a desk, but not both b/c they wouldn't both fit in my apartment. Incidentally, this was the first confirmation that I received that an apartment had been secured for me. Such is how information is transferred.

Well, anyway, after a bit of confusion, I selected the couch and was pleased that I had fewer things to worry about and pay for. This was all well and good, until I moved into my temporary apartment. The big plus of this in my mind was that I'd be able to cook. It's not like I'm a culinary expert, but I miss real breakfast food (I'm sure I've complained about what passes for breakfast here [if not: western breakfast in the cafeteria had pasta and brownies one day]). So I was excited to be able to eat copious amounts of bacon and eggs again.

Except that I had no cooking stuff. Just a microwave and fridge. I was hesitant to buy things b/c I knew some things would be provided upon moving (the exact items were kept a secret to heighten the anticipation). I finally decided that I didn't care and bought a couple plates, an electric burner and enough utensils to cook and eat eggs.

Before buying anything else, though, I decided to ask what would be provided in the new place so as to avoid duplicity. In what is one of the most annoying aspects of being here, rather than getting an actual answer about what would be provided, I was told that the housing manager would meet me after work to provide me things. While a simple list would have sufficed, I wasn't going to complain about getting more crap that I can use immediately.

So yesterday evening, the housing manager shows up with boxes of kitchen crap. And here's why this is weird:

1. I'm not sure who the housing manager is or what exactly his job entails. I first met him as the guy that was cleaning the apartment prior to my arrival. He gave me the keys and warned me not to use the kitchen sink until it had been worked out between the apartment and company who was paying to have it fixed*. So I assumed he was in charge of the apartment complex. Except that now, it's apparent that his job also includes shopping for me and he will be in charge of moving my crap to the real apartment when the time comes. Also, I asked him about where to dispose of recycling and he had to ask a security guard, so he clearly isn't affiliated w/ this particular apartment complex.

*1b. The sink still isn't fixed. Apparently since I'm only here for a month the company doesn't want to pay or something. Which makes sense- except for the very idea that the person moving into an apartment is responsible for paying to fix broken things. Really, WTF? Also, in another day or two, I'm just going to go ahead and wash the dishes, leak be damned. I mean, I made a cheeseburger and I don't think washing the greasy pan in the bathtub is a reasonable option. And, yes, sibling, that does mean I have gross, dirty dishes stacked in my kitchen. So there's still a chance that I can make that TV show.

2. As if having this guy doing simple shopping wasn't strange enough, he insists upon unpacking everything. I try to help and he tells me no. So I stand there in the kitchen while he pulls plates out of the box and puts them in my cabinets. It was bizarre. I mean what's the proper etiquette for when a stranger has bought you stuff like sponges and dishtowels and is unpacking them all for you? I went with uncomfortable watching.

Not that this is the first time I've been relegated to awkward observance. Maybe the service industry is just way better here (and I'm not even talking about the massage parlors). When I picked up my stuff at the post office, they insisted on hauling the boxes around and not letting me help. The bellhop at the hotel did the same when I asked for a cart. I mean, I guess I appreciate their efforts, but they don't tip here and I'm just left standing around. Maybe I just need to work on my sense of entitlement.

Anyway, here are my new dishes. So if I start cooking Korean food and make a bajillion side dishes, I'll totally be set. Or if I need a weird mini-fork anytime soon, also covered.

Again, can't complain about free things, but yeah, probably won't be making much use of some of these. Probably wouldn't have picked that bedspread either...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The (Temporary) New Digs

It's kind of amazing how much of a mess I've managed to make in only about a week in my temporary apartment. Since I'm only going to be here a few more weeks, I've left most of my stuff in boxes. However, as I start needing things (like winter clothes b/c it just decided to start freezing yesterday), I begin digging things out and scattering them around.

Not having things like a dresser or laundry basket tends to make things look rather untidy. Also, piling up trash in a corner b/c you haven't bother asking how the trash system works here makes things less tidy. Anyway, here are some pictures of the place for those of you who like to live vicariously.

It's a kitchen. It doesn't come with a stove. Or a burner. Apparently the place I'm moving will come with a burner, so I don't get one for now. I bought a little electric one to use while I'm here. I made pasta Sunday night. First meal I made in Korea after spending more than 3 months here. Last night: hashbrowns (I bought a peeler and knife solely for this purpose) and eggs. It was amazing. And tonight I got bacon from the bigger grocery store. I'm totally pumped. Now if I can only find a foreman grill...
My little dining room/microwave room. The internet hook-up is in the bedroom, so I don't really have much reason to be in here. Unless I want to eat and stare at the wall. Or microwave things.
My bedroom.

All in all, not a bad setup. The only real issue I have is that the bedroom isn't dark enough due to the gigantic window that runs the length of the attached laundry/porch/room/thing. If I get the motivation to swap the bed and table though, well, good things will happen. Darker sleeping and a table to put the computer on. Nice.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gay Sports Pork Party!

I get lots of email I can't read. Usually running it through google's translator will give the basic idea of the email, if not the finer details. Sometimes not so much:

2. 명랑운동회 삼겹살 파티

Goodbye, Hotel

I'm checking out of the hotel and moving to a temporary apartment somewhere in Suwon. I don't really know where it is or anything about it. I've been informed that the bed I would have received upon moving to my permanent apartment will be provided. I have been informed that I will need to have things like dishes. I take this to mean that major appliances will be provided, though there is a fair bit of gray between a bed and dishes.

All in all, I'm glad to be leaving the hotel. I doubt I'll really unpack or settle in the temp apartment, but I'm kinda tired of the hotel (even with the Karoake room on the first floor). Maid service just makes me kind of uncomfortable. I really don't need a new towel everyday and I'll never understand the point of making the bed. And the randomness that seems to dictate whether they will leave me a washcloth is a bit odd. Mostly, though, I think I just like to be left alone when I'm going home. I don't want someone at the desk to greet me every time I walk in or out.

I understand that they're just being polite, but I always feel awkward and like I need to explain to them where I'm going or something. I would guess that for the most part, the hotel employees are kind of amused by the t-shirt wearing American who's been holed up in the hotel for going on a month. I even got a laugh out of one when I got on the elevator with a couple of guys in business suits after a quick trip to the convenience store for Pringles and an MGD (doing you proud, America).

Anyway, not sure what the internet situation will be like in the new place, so I might disappear for a little while. Figured I'd drop this note to dispel any fears that too much birthday soju was to blame for my absence (though, I will credit it for the worst hang over I've had since a bad decision involving some boxed wine many years ago).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


PumpkinHead and Squidy Welcome you the Mysterious Island Ulleungdo!

Despite the fact that leaving the island is a dicey proposition, Ulleungdo may be my favorite of all the places I've been to in Korea. It's hard to get to, harder to leave and lacking in cuisine, but it's definitely got it's fair share of scenery. And squid.

The weather was nice. There was lots of hiking. I skipped out on a couple days of work. I didn't have to pay for anything (thanks prof K and university). Getting stuck an extra day just resulted in more sightseeing w/o missing any more work, which would have undoubtedly resulted in an unpleasant encounter w/ HR.

There are only like 10,000 people on the whole island and apparently 90% of what they do is directly involved with squid. It's really pretty ridiculous. Everywhere you go, squid are hanging around drying. Along the harbor? sure. In front of shops? why not? The gas station? yeah, throw some squid over there. On your porch? yeah, God forbid we not be able to see squid carcasses from any vantage.

Not enough squid? Don't worry, it keeps going.

I usually like squid. Sashimi, bulgogi, all good. But dried squid is where I draw the line. It smells like a dead sea creature and has the consistency of a dog toy. Other than that, though, I can totally see why this island is dedicated to the desiccation of squid. Or cuttlefish, I'm not 100% on the difference and don't feel like typing things into google.

Still not convinced that it's worth a 1.5 hours on train, 3 on a bus and 3 more on a ferry to get to there? Well, there's also an inexplicable monorail, quite a few lighthouses, incredibly blue water, and (as the tourist brochure points out) lots of stone. You can also take another 3 hour ferry to see Dokdo. And if you're really lucky, you might get to ride some awesome farm equipment (I'll post the video once I get a hold of it).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ullruengdo, Day 3

I was supposed to be headed home right now. Instead I am still in Ullruengdo using the only functional computer in the resort's business center. Tomoro, I will wake up, have breakfast of cabbage salad, rice and possibly hot dogs. During this time I will learn whether or not the ocean gods have been satisfied and will let us depart.

Today, Posideon was angry and no ferry made the journey from Pohang to come and pick us up. This was not a big deal for me b/c I live in a hotel and really have nothing going on. Just another day to hang out with the crap ton of drying squid scattered around here. Any more delays, however, and I will be missing work. Given that I've only been working there 3 weeks and took off Thur & Fri to come here, missing more days is probably not the best idea. Then again, surely my boss will understand that I am trapped on an island in the East Sea.

Aside from the fact that it might not be possible to leave Ullruengodo, it might be the best place I've been in Korea. I'll explain and post pictures sometime later, but thought I'd begin documenting my plight should I forever remain here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

2:5o- I get in the elevator at the hotel and push the 12th floor button.

2:51- The elevator stops on the 3rd floor. I noticed while approaching the hotel that lights on the third floor, which is where the restaurant and bar are located, were off. A man gets on the elevator. He's wearing a jogging suit and holding a towel and a pair of slacks.

2:52- The man smiles embarrassedly and bows politely. He looks to select a floor, but it turns out we're both heading towards 12. I pretend that this is totally normal.

2:53- Elevator stops on the 12th floor. The man, graciously gestures for me to exit first. I reach my room at the end of the hall. The man is two rooms back. He calls to me, in a friendly tone, asking if I'd a lot to drink. I tell him, yes, I'd had much to drink. I go in my room.

This is where I currently live.

Group Meeting

So shortly after arriving, my research team got transferred to another group (group being just above team in an escalating hierarchy that I know very little about. Since I don't really know much about the company structure, this didn't really mean much to me beyond the fact that I have to go up a few more floors in the building to get to my cubicle.

Since our team is new to the group, though, we were expected to give introductions at the latest group meetings. As per usual, I received no advanced warning, instead just being told to come to the group meeting as everyone else heading to it.

Our team was a bit late, so I got separated from the other team members taking the few remaining chairs. Without anyone to translate for me

group head: blablablabla
somebody else: blabblablabalb
group head: blablblabl
team member1: (standing up) My name is...blablblablab
me: (crap, they're going to want me to talk)
team member2: (standing up) My name is...blablablbalbl
everyone: (laugh)
team member2: balbalbalblal.
me: (crap, it's more than just 'hi, my name is', they'll want me to talk more)
team member3: blbablabllababjl
team member3: Brandon, introduce yourself.
me: anyeonghaseo (smiling)
everyone: (laugh)
me: (glad they're amused by my attempt at Korean, b/c I've no idea what they expect me to say) English: My name is Brandon. I work here now. I don't know what you expect me to say because I don't understand your language. (sit down)
team member1: Brandon blablblablabl
me: (apparently I did not sufficiently describe myself)
team member4: I'm blbablablbl
group leader: blablblablblabl single?
team member 1: (gestures at some team members, me included)
me: (stare confused)
group leader: You're single?
me: Oh, yes (kind of amused that this is brought up in the course of a group meeting at work)


group leader: blablablabla Brandon blablablab
me: (I look around curiously)
someone: blabla Brandon balbla
me: (I look around some more)
someone: We hope you learn Korean
everyone: (laugh)
me: I hope so too (confused laugh)


otherpeople: blbalbalblabl
group leader: blablablalb Brandon blalblbalbal Some Name blablablab
everyone: (laugh)
girl in cubicle next to mine: (blush and look embarrassed)
me: (seriously? I don't think I even want to know)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Donkey Punch

I just came across the phrase " The Donkey Punch" in a power point at work and it's pretty much made my day.

Is this just some random mistranslation? Or a joke? Or maybe I'm in for a whole lot of surprises about what goes on around here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fun with HR

One of the joys of working in Korea (or, quite possibly, anywhere you don't speak the native language) is learning when to really try to understand what's happening and when to just let it all slide and hope is works out. After my summer, I've concluded that in matters concerning HR, it's almost always best to proceed with less than perfect information and assume that if a real problem (that I can actually do something about) is occurring someone will find a way to let me know.

For instance, when HR gave me an address to ship my belongings to, I figured it's just easier to send them there and hope for the best rather than try to find out where I was actually mailing things. However, upon arriving in Korea, I began to worry about the distinct possibility that I would never see my possessions again.

So, I broke down and asked HR where I had sent all my stuff and how I would be notified when it arrived. I learn that I have apparently mailed my belongings to an empty apartment. Not one that I will be living in, mind you, just an apartment. I'm unable to convey my concern that mailing packages addressed to me to random empty apartments may not be the best way for me to received said packages. I decide I will have to bring a 3rd party into the fray in order to express this concern.

Back at my office, HR has recognized my concern and sent me a message inquiring if I had given the delivery company HR's phone number. I had not. HR asks how will we know when the packages arrive. Exactly.

HR suggests I find out who the delivery company is. I say I will call the USPS and ask who they hand packages off to upon arrival in Korea. That night USPS informs me the Korean Postal Service will deal w/ the stuff once it's in Korea.

The next day, I inform HR that what the USPS told me. HR stares at me blankly. I stare back, trying to remember how to say post office in Korean. I try to explain again, confused, since HR seems to understand what I mean when I say I sent the package via US postal service, but does not seem to understand Korean postal service. I wonder what the translation of their postal service is if these two entities do not equate or if the USPS is just wrong and there are many potential postal services or something.

After a while, HR says, "You must mean the Korean National Postal Service". I stare blankly.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

...and we're back

I don't think it's really sunk in that I've moved to Korea, but here I am. Some people seemed surprised that I was returning. Apparently my blog posts over the summer gave the impression that I had a rather unpleasant experience in Korea. That would be incorrect. Really, aside from the living situation, I had a good time. Good enough to come back anyway.
I got in Saturday evening and have been more or less dealing w/ jet lag since so I'm not very settled. Also, I don't have a place to live yet. Apparently apartments in Seoul (or at least Gangnam) sell out as soon as they're available. So for now I'm living in a hotel in Suwon. It's not as shady as the love hotel I stayed in before leaving, but it's a lot roomier and does have a jacuzzi tub, so I can't really complain.
I think I mentioned the horrible homogeneity of Korean cities before, but lacked proper photo documentation. Well, here's the view from my hotel of some commercial buildings in Yeongtong. You've now seen half of the buildings in Korea. I'll have to put up a photo of an apartment complex to complete the picture.
Anyway, not much of interest in this post. Just throwing something up to try and get in the habit of it.

Monday, September 14, 2009


So despite sparse posts and a lack of pictures, the blog's been picked up for round 3. Starting next week (assuming the visa paperwork happens) I'll be back in Korea. Unfettered internet and camera access as well as an improved location (Seoul instead of Suwon) should lead to higher quality ranting.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pearl Jam in Korea

Last night a coworker invited me to a concert in Hongdae. There were 3 bands, largely consisting of friends of the coworker. We got there early while the bands were doing sound checks and stuff so I got to have tall-boys from the 7-11 (the bar wasn't open yet) with various musicians before the show.

During the show, a riduculous number of people had nice SLR cameras. Apparently, half the point of going to a concert here is to photograph the band.

My favorite part of the show was the Pearl Jam cover band that played the second set. The singer did a pretty impressive Eddie Veddar impression, made even better when he would end a song and start speaking Korean to the crowd. Just a weird juxtaposition. I was especially amused by the fact that the lyrics at the beginning of 'Black' were much more understandable coming from the Korean cover band than the actual CD. But what really placed this show above a real Pearl Jam concert was when they took a break halfway through and the guitarest and basist sang an acoustic cover of 'Dancing Queen'. It was awesome. I wish Pearl Jam would take a break and have the guitarist sing acoustic Abba songs.

The 3rd group, who's vocalist wore a sleeveless turtleneck and sunglasses (a nice combo) also did various covers. Winger's '17' was my personal favorite. After the show, pretty much everyone who was there migrated to a pork place next door and then on to drinks in the area. A solid finale.

A few follow up notes about the love hotel.
1. It was cheaper to keep the room tonight. Apparently Sunday is not as busy a night.
2. It's definitely a love hotel. Despite all the efforts towards discretion, you can still hear things in the hallway pretty clearly. There are freaking surround sound stereos in the rooms, is putting on a little music to mask the noise while I'm waiting for the elevator too much to ask?
3. It's not just a jacuzzi, there's air temp sensors to turn the bathtub into a sauna. It's freaking sweet.

Previously I'd been told that the distinction between motel and hotel in Korea is that hotels tend to be the place you'd stay w/ the family and motels are the place you stay w/ a mistress. Usually, the distinction is clearly indicated by the gaudy neon lights. I'd also been told that the love motels are way nicer than normal hotels. Having previously stayed in hotels that generally consist of sleeping mats on the floor, I'd have to agree. Given the typical prices I'd seen on the internet for hotels in Seoul, this place isn't horribly expensive (just a little more than I care to pay to sleep somewhere). So, if you come to Korea, stay in places that have fringe covering the parking lot.

Now I'm going to go take a bath and use the "Body Sponge: Hotel Amenity Goods for Shower" since they're not big on normal washclothes here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Apartment Hunt

Today I finally ended my two month stay at the wonderful company dormitory. I figured it was worth spending a little bit more money I don't really have to enjoy my last (or is it?) weekend in Korea. Since I had an 11am appointment to tour some apartments in Gangnam, I got up early to check out and haul my gigantic bag to the subway for an hour long ride.

Not wanting to haul my bags around all day, I figured I'd find a motel before the meeting and drop them off. Unfortunately, the Orbitz website lied to me about the existance of a reasonably priced Best Western, leaving me lugging my heavy bags around an apparently hotel-less area near Gangnam with only 30 minutes until my appointment. I flagged down a cab and am eventually able to explain that I want to go to a hotel and I don't really care which one. I figure between his cabby-experience and his GPS this will be a simple enough request.

After what seems to be some aimless driving around, the cabby points at a place called Mul Hotel and asks if that works. Not really caring what the place is, I say sure. Black fringe so you can't see in the parking lot? check. Little wooden signs for blocking your license plate once your in the lot? check. Dark reception area w/ a tiny window so the hotel clerk can't really look at you? check. Condoms in the bathroom kit? Yup. It's a high end love hotel.

It's a bit pricey, but whatever. The room has a jacuzzi and a "Digital Control for Skin Care" box. So that's nice. And they let me check in at 10.30. All in all, a win. I drop my bags and head to meet the realtor people.

The apartment tour was arranged by the company. I received a call from someone asking if I spoke Korean and instructing me to meet my translator, Mr. Han, at Gagnam station 11am Saturday.

The first apartment is alright. A pretty basic studio place on the 18th floor. Nice view, good location. Seems a little dirty. Which I find odd. When I look in the sink to see if there's a disposal they guess that I'm judging the dirtiness and inform me that this is just a sample room and that the one I'd actually get is 1 floor above and would be professionally cleaned before I moved in. This doesn't really bother me, it just seems like you'd keep the demo room looking nice. Guess that's not how they roll in Korea.

They ask if I want to see other places. I say yes. Mr. Han, Realtor-lady and I head to the parking garage where Mr. Han's car is. Except he doesn't remember where it is. So after stops on the 2nd and 3rd level and several phone calls (it seems like he's asking where the car is? maybe it's not his, the whole thing's weird) we finally find his car on the 4th level. And proceed to drive like 2 blocks to the next place.

At the second place, we meet the additional realtor-lady for that buidling and head to the 15th floor. Here, they can't get the door open. Apparently this apartment is currently occupied and the occupant changed the door combination. The first realtor-lady apologizes and says that this apartment wouldn't be available in time anyway. So I don't know why we went there, but whatever.

The third place has a couple currently living in it. I get to take off my shoes and awkwardly look around. The place is nice though. That ends our tour of apartments. So now I'm back at the love hotel. It has a computer with free internet, making the love hotel a far better choice than expensive hotels in America.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Fun Fact

If you buy a fan in Korea it will have a shut-off timer on it. Apparently there is a widespread belief that you will die if you leave a fan on while you sleep. So, there you go. Kimchi may make you immune to SARS and pig flu, but it renders you susceptible to consistent breezes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday is the Korean Friday

As fate would have it, I've spent the 3 Tuesdays prior to yesterday in Seoul. Twice visiting a design institute to discuss an internship related collaboration and once to attend a Cannytrophic East board meeting. In accordance with proper Korean business practice all these trips have resulted in extended deliberations over drinks and me feeling like crap warmed over on Wednesday morning.

The first trip to the design institute involved most of my research group and the head of the lab or division or whatever is above the research group in the company hierarchy. Two hours of powerpoints and discussions in Korean and many wishes for a swift death to release me from the tremendous boredom of powerpoints an discussions in Korean later, we all (researcher + students + prof + myself) head to a nearby Korean restaurant.

By this point, I'm starving and anything that doesn't involve powerpoint sounds like a thrilling plan. I am quickly reminded, though, that Korean restaranteers are all sadists. Instead of being fed, I'm forced to ingest dead sea creatures coated with painful spices... and forced to sit on a hard floor. No matter what you might think, sitting on the floor is not quaint or pleasant in any cultural-experience kind of way. Now this would be unpleasant enough for anyone unaccustomed to sitting on the floor while a multi-course meal drags on, but given my apparent hip deformity that prevents me from sitting Indian style (PC be damned, it's Indian style) it's even worse for me. So I get to spend the 2 hour meal flopping around on the floor trying to find a position that allows me to be close enough to the stupid short table to put food in my mouth with out dropping the slimy crap from the chopsticks on myself and then spit the damned fish bones back out without kicking people and looking like a complete jackass. Let's just say it didn't work out too well. If it weren't for soju, I don't think I'd have made it.

After the meal, things begin to look up as a couple of my colleagues suggest we head to nearby Apgujeong and hit the bars. I am informed that Apgujeong is like heaven. Heaven apparently resembles a high-end shopping/restaurant district and is primarily populated by heavily made-up Korean women in short skirts. Such hopes are dashed, however when the division head suggests we head back to near his house and play billiards instead.

In and of itself, the billiards is actually fairly enjoyable. Instead of normal pool (pocketball), the Koreans mostly play a game w/ 2 red balls and 2 white balls on a table w/ no pockets. One white ball belongs to each player/team and you get a point for hitting both red balls with your white ball in one shot. If your ball hits the other white ball, though, you lose a point. The balls are heavy than regular pool and you have to rely on spins and such a lot more. Pretty interesting.

Or at least it's pretty interesting for a while. Unfortunately, the game I was playing became an epic battle of futility. It took nearly 2 hours to complete (my team ended up winning and I even had a run of points to help put it away). By this point, I was starving from not being able to eat, sober b/c Korean pool halls don't have drinks (really odd, IMO), tired b/c I always am and thoroughly disillusioned with the whole trip to Seoul. Add in a 30 minute bus ride back to Suwon and I'm in a pretty bad mood.

Before I catch a cab to dorm, one of my colleagues asks if I'm hungry and suggests we stop at a chicken and hof. Sure, he's married with two kids and it's 11:30pm on a Tuesday, that doesn't mean he's not up for beer and chicken (or even bother calling his wife, as far as I could tell. +1 Korea). Just like that, the whole night is redeemed.

Last week's trip into Seoul started out much like the first with an unintelligible presentation the design students' first draft of ideas. However, without the formalities or managers (the group leader was traveling and the division head didn't come along), we were able to skip directly to fried chicken and beer after the presentation. Without the group leader, the other guys in the group seem at little more at ease.

J is the youngest and newest group member, which puts him distinctly at the bottom of the pecking order. At restaurants, he's implicitly in charge of calling waiters, passing things out and any other menial tasks (as a foreigner and/or intern, I appear to be exempt from this). Anyway, at the Japanese restaurant, J notices a couple of cute girls at a table nearby and begins not so subtly scooting his chair closer to mine so he can stare at them. So we're sitting shoulder to shoulder and there's like a 3 foot gap between him and the next person and I can't help but laugh. Which earns me a "What you laughing at, man?" and some joke about him 'dancing with my lap' or whatever his mangled interpretation of a lapdance was. He's about 30 minutes from being passed out face-down on the table.

I manage to keep myself together longer than J, despite copious amounts of soju prompted by one of my colleague's friends who met us at the Japanese place. Since we were meeting for the first time, we had to drink a lot. Since the friend, J and I are single, we had to drink a lot. As you might guess, it really doesn't take much for them to justify another round of soju. By the end of round 2, J is done, the friend is in pretty rough shape and I'm holding my own (but not as well as I thought).

My colleague who saved me on the previous trip invites me for round 3 at another place he knows of that's good for catching live rock music. The others being either completely wasted or intent on not getting completely wasted decline to join us. We go to a pretty awesome little music bar. We've pretty much got the place to ourselves and the guitarist at the place basically place a private set. By the time we leave, the 3 rounds of drinking and constant lack of sleep catch up with me and I'm out for the entire cab ride back to Suwon.

That's it. This post is long enough and since it's a blog I don't have to wrap things up nicely.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


During the two weeks I was in Boston after returning from Japan, I realized that I might prefer not understanding people. I was sitting on the subway, minding my own business, when suddenly my thoughts are hijacked by the idiot ramblings of two khaki-wearing jackasses proselytizing their solutions to the economic crisis. "Oh, really? It's that simple? All we have to do is hand over control to some tool who took a semester of business school? Hell, why didn't we do that earlier."

I was painfully reminded of this fact the other weekend when I went exploring bars in Suwon. One thing I don't like about Korea is that it's completely unacceptable to go out by yourself. "Yes, chicken and hof proprietor, I did come by myself. Yes I am going to eat all the fried chicken and drink beer alone. And I'm going to enjoy it. Fine. Hide me away in the corner booth so the other customers don't have to witness the shame of my lonesome dining."

Many of the bars, even those that purport to be Western style, don't actually have a bar. But you can't tell from the outside. It provides the fun of walking in and deciding whether it's more awkward to just turn away from the hostess and walk out again or to drink alone in a booth. The upshot of this, is that it leads foreigners to aggragate at the few bars that cater to our sad and lonely existences. This in turn leads to a high chance of being forced to listen to a flat-brimmed hat wearing jackass from the midwest proselytizing about American politics. "Really? Obama repealed the Declaration of Independence*?"

*not an exageration. Mostly I just nodded through his rambling but I couldn't keep a straight face at this one and had to mention that I'd missed the news that we were back under the Queen's rule.

So, I thought I prefered not understanding people and if this meant that sometimes I order a plate of cold chopped cow head for dinner, so be it. This opinion was altered the other night after an experience on the subway back from Seoul, however.

It's like 9pm or so and I'm standing near one end of a subway car and this old, presumably drunk Korean guy just starts rambling. Loudly and to no one in particular. At first it seems like he's talking to the guy next to him, but that guy, after initially looking at the old dude, begins intensly sutdying the floor to avoid further interaction. The drunk is not deterred. An old woman sits across the way from him and he directs his ranting at her. She lasts almost two stops before getting up and walking to the other end of the car. All other passengers are trying there best to pretend the guy doesn't exist. He continues conversing with everyone.

I am utterly fascinated and totally wish I knew what he was saying. After another stop or so another old and presumably drunk guy shows up and sits where the old lady had been. They are instant best friends. Drunk 2 screams things back at #1, who applauds and gives him a thumbs up. It's totally bizarre.

After about 15 minutes, it is no longer amusing. I hate them. I don't know what they're saying, though it seems to be vaguely offending everyone else. Mostly they're just too damn loud. I consider yelling at them to shut up. I kind of regret doing it. Given the age-respect issues of the Koreans that undoubtably is why the only reason no one else has told them off, I can only imagine the shock and horror that would ensue if a dirty foreigner were to tell some old guys to shut the hell up.

Anyway, lesson is people are annoying everywhere and I really wish my mp3 player wasn't broken so I didn't have to listen to them anymore.

Oh, also I've actually been doing some stuff lately. This might translate to more posts (just in case your life has been unfulfilled lately). Hard to know.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I have been waking up at 7am for 4 weeks now. I'm not sure why it is that my body has accepted this, whereas in the past it would always just refuse to grant me consciousness regardless of how many noise-making devices I set for that explicit purpose. What I am sure of is that it is killing me. Physically, I am getting weaker. Mentally, I am losing the ability to think. Emotionally, I am dead. The only way I can regain any semblance of myself is through chemical stimulation. Coffee will grant me 20 to 60 minutes of lucidity (depending on whether I go buy decent black coffee or just drink the sugary 4 oz. of crap that is provided for free in my office). Beer will also grant my temporary asylum from my purgatory, but it also makes me really tired. I guess I'll just keep going like this. I'm kind of curious if there's some point at which my body will adapt or if I'll just lose all will to live. It could really go either way.

Dorm life has improved. Props to the HR people who fixed things. No more signing in or security looking for us after 11. They even threw in a fridge.

I've decided that I'm a fan of the Korean style bathroom. Rather than bothering w/ a separate shower, they just hook a shower head to the sink (perhaps this is actually the Russian train style bathroom) and put a drain in the floor. At first I wasn't entirely sold. Mostly b/c after you shower the bathroom floor and everything else remains wet for quite a while. If your a fan of the indoor slipper (which are provided in the room) this isn't much of an issue. I'm not a fan of the slipper. What convinced me of the brilliance of the setup was when I was taking a shower in my tired-zombie state and realized that by angling the shower head properly, I could avoid unnecessary effort by sitting on the toilet. Back when I was in Austin, I used to keep a cooler in my shower to sit on (and b/c I didn't have anywhere else to put it). Sitting in the shower is a good idea. I won't accept arguements. Korea bathroom: 1. Standing shower stalls: 0.

Other odds and ends:

Korea has a lot of churches. They all seem to have neon crosses on top. Not sure why this is. I don't recall seeing any churches in Japan. I'm curious as to why Christianity would sell in Korea but not Japan. Anybody? Also, why the neon? Oh, and there are Jehovah's witnesses too.

Sweet potatoes do not belong on pizza. Corn can be used to garnish anything (really, it works alright).

I need to sleep.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pros and Cons

Now that I've spent a couple weeks in Korea, I feel secure in judging all aspects of Korean culture that I've encountered. In fact, I'll take it a step further and just go ahead and judge all aspects of Korean culture whether I encountered it, generalized it from the actions of an isolated individual or just completely made it up. With this in mind, I present a brief list of positive and negative aspects of living in Korea.

+ The Korean Coffee Education Society. The other day while I stood in line for my copy americano (there is no 'f' sound in Korean. This receives neutral ranking in my book) I noticed a certificate proclaiming the girl making my coffee to be a level 2 barista as certified by the Korean Coffee Education Society. I can only assume that this certificate is akin to a B.A. in Liberal Arts in the states and commend Korea for going ahead and calling a spade a spade.

- Maids. Oh sure, it sounds like nice idea to have someone come and clean your room everyday. Except when your room is a small dorm room and you don't really have anything in there anyway and all they apparently do is make the bed. Not that I really object to the bed being made. Whatever. The problem is that they also insist on opening the window and letting hordes of mosquitoes in the room. I have no idea why they open the window, it's god awful hot and humid outside. And the screens, which they generally do leave closed have a bunch of holes lining them (not old and falling apart, the holes are cut into the metal frame), thus defeating the purpose of a screen.

+ Chicken and Hof. I'm not really sure why chicken and hof (seems to classify drinking places that offer a small selection of food as opposed to straight up bars or restaurants) is better than wing places back in the states, but it is. Chicken and Hof will ensure I don't lose weight in Korea.

- Long pants. I suppose as far as dress codes go, just requiring long pants isn't the worst thing in worl. But, as mentioned above, it's freaking hot and humid here. And while there is air conditioning inside, it seems to struggle with overcoming the heat produced by the 5 to 1 ratio of large electronics to people in my office. Oh, and I only brought 2 pairs of pants. 1 being dressy and reserved for such necessary occasions, the other being a pair of jeans that apparently have begun to disintegrate. Both knees are totally gone and holes are forming in low stress along my thigh and other low stress locations. The jeans are falling apart enough that I feel retarded wearing them (more b/c I'm afraid people will think I'm trying to be stylish than b/c I care that you can see my boxers, but whatever), otherwise this would've been a perfect opportunity to try and break my personal record of 1 month in 1 unwashed pair of pants set back in May.

+ Traditional Markets. Undoubtedly much to the relief of my family, I have purchased new pants since being here. Two pair for under $30 thanks to haggling at the market. I thought I entirely loathed shopping. Turns out, I just hate malls and department stores. If you set your clothes on a table in the street right next to a guy selling mutilated pig parts, I'm all about it.

- No drinks at meals. I'm working on making my peace with spicy food. I don't know that I'll ever enjoy it, but I have a feeling I'll tolerate it by the time I'm out of here. That said, I don't think I'll ever understand the 'not having anything to drink while you eat spicy food' idea. This mostly applies to the cafeteria, since I think all the restaurants have provided water, but it's still strange. On the way out of the cafeteria is a pile of cups and water faucets. It's weird.

+ Healthy food. Actually, I don't really buy it all, but it seems like the whole country has collectively decided that everything they eat is healthy. Kimchi makes you immune to Sars and the Swine flue (though they still were checking all temperatures exiting the plane and quarantining people w/ symptoms). Chicken Ginseng soup has been studied by Korean ancestors to raise the dead or something. And this isn't an isolated, quirky thing. Many times, by many people, random crap is recommended under the guise of health. Last night I was offered some bark shavings b/c it was 'good for health'. Awesome.

- Urinals. For some reason urinals don't like me here. They just keep flushing. Like 3 or 4 times while I'm standing there. This doesn't seem to happen to other people. It is the greatest mystery.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


As previously chronicled, after a long first week I was in need of a solid weekend to salvage my second impression of Korea. As luck would have it, Cannytrophic coworker Zoz was also in Seoul, allowing us to continue our search for the ideal location for Cannytrophic's pending Asia branch.

The global intern posse had a scheduled trip into Seoul to explore the modern parts. Despite Friday night's liberation celebration, I was on the bus at 8:40, feeling only slightly worse for the wear. Our first stop was the Coex mall, an underground tribute to consumerism and Korea's 17th century victory* over the mole people who originally inhabited the peninsula. Not particularly exciting, but I did eat at a Pizza Hut and the pizza did have sweet potato around the outside and can now definitively state that sweet potato does not belong on pizza.

After that we went somewhere with upscale shopping, then to some other market. But again, nice places with many shops that I recognized, not the cool places with questionable goods and socks with Korean celebrities on them.

Lastly, the intern posse headed to Itaewon to check out Seoul's gaijin (there is a Korean word for this, but I forgot it and kinda like gaijin anyway) outpost. The intern posse headed back for Suwon and I remained in Itaewon to meet up w/ Zoz and his expat associates.

Thunder, a former MITer now in his 4th year in Korea, was our guide through Itaewon which ranges from quite nice to quite seedy in a pretty small area. Also, while I certainly don't want to denigrate the entire expat community, I can understand why Korean's have a negative few of the 'dirty foreigners'. Let's just say, if I wind up 50 and hitting on young girls in Itaewon, I won't be impressed. Still, I'd take Itaewon over Roppongi in a heartbeat. Highlights included an interesting bar filled with swings and sand to dinner overlooking a tranny cafe. To which I note, from a distance they are frighteningly convincing, closer up, just kind of frightening.

But the real scene stealer from the night in Itaewon was Champ. Late in the night, we stopped at one of the small food stands that line the streets. Basically it's a grill with tables and bench seats on 3 sides of it. The rain had stopped and it seemed a nice, cheap place to wrap up the night. Our group of 5 was split with 3 on the front bench and myself and 'Sarah' sitting on a smaller side bench. All is going fine when up staggers Champ and plops down next to me.

Champ orders a beer, announces that he is Korean and then rambles in Korean. We stare at him. Our puzzled stares and English replies do not dissuade Champ. He reiterates that he is Korean, apparently expecting this to give us the ability to understand him. This repeats several times, often with Champ reaching over me to shake/try to kiss 'Sarah''s hand. Sarah is not a fan. But, Champ is not dissuaded. No, he is Korean and he is a champ.

Thunder points out that we were rude not to introduce ourselves to Champ. We do so, which Champ understands well enough to show us an ID w/ his name on it. It is at this point that I inform Champ that his English name will henceforth be Champ. I write it on a scrap of paper and he puts it in his wallet with his ID. He then lapses back into rambling Korean and creeping out Sarah.

I decide that since Champ has no problem with carrying on a one way conversation, I will return the favor and begin discussing the new Transformers movie with Champ. There is a brief moment of recognition as Champ seems to have heard of Transformers or at least recognize my high quality sound effects. Champ also recognizes if I let obscenities slip and gets unduly excited. Like, crap, what have I unleashed, excited.

The amusement of this situation begins to wear thin as Champ begins gesture at me and himself in what I can only assume is concern as to whether I regularly check for testicular cancer. He also gets more aggressive in his quest to kiss Sarah's hand. He jokingly(?) hits me in the shoulder, which sobers me up pretty quickly. Not b/c it was particularly threatening (he immediately apologized), but the whole scenario seemed to be trending in the wrong direction.

We decided it was time to go. As we start to get up, Champ hops up and saunters down the street. We sit back down to finish our food/drinks, thinking he was gone. Nope, Champ just had to piss. In the middle of the street. Because he's Champ. Fortunately, when he returned, the lady running the food stand and her son ran him off (though I think Thunder might have offered/been coerced into paying for Champ's beers as part of the bargain).

All in all, it made for an entertaining evening augmented even more by a new appreciation of being free.

*This may not be entirely historically accurate, but I can't imagine why there would be so many underground shopping areas if they were not taken from the mole people.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Unpleasant Week

Let's say you're a company looking to recruit more international employees. Let's also say you've got a batch who've made it through the interview proccess and have agreed to spend the summer as an intern to get a feel for the place and vice/versa. What would be the best way to welcome such a group?

I don't know, but what isn't the best way is to imprison them in a dorm, quarantine their electronic devices and hand out poorly translated rules that are contradictory and/or nonsensical. But what do I know?

I'll admit this seems like a bit of a harsh judment (largely in light of my enjoyable weekend which should be described soon enough), but had I written this around 6PM last Friday, I'd have probably been much more critical.

The biggest problem was that our security badges were not available/active until Wednesday night. Since the dorms are located w/in the secured complex, this meant we couldn't enter without an HR escort, effectively imprisoning us inside the complex. So, fine, we have to stay put. Oh, but wait, external electronics are a security threat, so no personal computers. So no skype, or any phones (we did get cell phones by the end of the week). And on top of the security at the gate checking us, there's additional security at the dorm. Where we have to sign in when we enter. Presumably this additional security is to ensure that we do not 'disturb public moral' and that we're not 'drunken'. Never mind that we were taken out for drinks our first night and warned during orientation that it is common Korean business practice to frequently go out drinking with coworkers and that sometimes this might last past midnight if karaoke gets involved. Also no food in the dorm (there's no kitchen). I haven't been this locked down since I was locked away at the academy in high school. Also there was the rule about being in the dorm by 11pm and that we had to stay until 11pm. Some mistranslated nonsense. Which we signed. In addition to the Korean version that had 4 additional bullet points that they decided we didn't need to know about.

Combine this with the jetlag from only arriving the night before and a week of going 8am-6pm of orientation and just the general adjustment period of being in Asia again and I was sick of being accomodating by Friday and just wanted to be free to go wherever and do whatever (turns out whatever involved tequila).

But enough ranting. I actually feel kind of bad for the HR guy in charge of us. He's clearly stressed about the whole situation and is working to get things resolved (most of which has been done). The dinner Monday night was highly entertaining, complete with drunk/angry guy busting into our private room and throwing a fit. I'm not sure if our dinner hosts or the restaurant staff was more embarrassed, but the profuse apologies all around were as amusing as the guy.

And the most important corrections (the 11pm curfew and 'no staying out overnight' rule) were resolved in time for the weekend. Actually, we were questioned when we rolled in at 4am Friday night/Saturday morning. I gathered that the security guy was concerned that we missed the 11pm curfew, but his lack of English and my utter lack of concern resolved the matter quickly enough. He later approached while I was making the last entry and asked something about if I had had a lot to drink. I said yes and he seemed satisfied.

It still seems that the security guards like to stare at me, but they just bow politely when I look back, so I guess everything's ok.

Either way, I'm optimistic that the work I'll be doing will be interesting and if my first weekend is any indication, Korea should be an entertaining time.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Famous Black Hat

It's 4:44 in the morning. The middle of June. I'm writing you now, just to see if you're reading.

Suwon is hot, I don't like where I'm living. There's security down the street all through the evening.

I hear that you're living, your little life, deep in America. You're living for nothing now, I hope you're keeping some kind of record. Yes, and they came by with a whiff of free air. They said that I signed it away. That night that I agreed to come here.

Why did I ever come here?

Oh the last time I saw you, it was so much better. Those middling KC Royals were beating the Reds. We'd been in the parking lot since 5:15 and you went home with out saying my name.

And I was subjected, on the flight, to Paul Blart, the Mall Cop. And when it was over, I wanted to gouge out my eyes. Well, I see you there with a beer in your hand. One more cheers, not for me. Well, I see security's awake. He says I must stop.

And what can I tell you, my readers, my followers, what can I possibly say? I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you, I wish you'd stood in my way.

If you ever come by here... for Suwon or for me, well your enemy is sleeping ...but his spirit is free, yeah. and thanks, for the comments you left behind. I read them all, seriously, though I didn't reply.

And they came by with a whiff of free air. They said that I signed it away. That night that I agreed to come here.

B Taylor

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Return to Seoul

A month and a half after my first visit, I'm back in Seoul. Flight was uneventful, if rather long and boring. I unfortunately slept through Paul Blart: Mall Cop or whatever that crappy-looking movie is called.

I'm in a hotel in the Gangnam area. It's a bit more lively around here than where I stayed for the weekend in May.

I was able to make it through the inspection process to weed out dirty foreigners infected with pig flus at the airport and got a solid dose of Seoul traffic on the bus ride in from the airport. It was about 6 when I got checked in and showered. I was starving and went wandering around. Many choices in the area.

Got some Korean bbq. The menu was not english, so I ordered a chunk of pork to eat. The server asked me how many I wanted. Having a limited supply of wons I stuck with 1 order, but was then suspicious as too how much food I would get. A couple times in Japan I had a problem with unwittingly going to a nicer place where you're supposed to order different courses and getting not enough to eat b/c I only order one thing. This was not the case here. In fact, I was barely able to eat all of one order of pork and maybe half the sides. They must have just assumed that as an American, my stomach is a black hole which no amount of food can satiate.

As soon as a bit of food was in my stomach, I was about ready to pass out at the table. I'm back at the rocking business center in my hotel trying to stay awake for a little while long. Seems like 8pm is a bit early for sleep. Actually it sounds kinda like a good idea, I'm just not sure if I'll sleep through the night if I crash now.

Got to be up and around at 7 or so to catch the bus to head off and begin my indoctrination. Not sure how much blogging I'll get done as the complex is discouraging personal computers (and wouldn't let you access the internet with them anyway) for security reasons. So we'll see. Either way, as of now I'm here and alive. So that's a decent start to things.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Temporary Asylum

I've touched down in NY. Should be in Boston in a few hours. A couple weeks rest, then off to Korea via Missouri.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


So, I made it to Munich. A friend of mine from Texas is here for the year, so I've got a place to stay. They mostly speak English life is pretty easy.

My trip has become something of a WWII tour: I've been to Hiroshima, seen Russian celebrations of May 9th, went to a concentration camp and Nuremberg. I guess I just need to stop at Pearl Harbor on the way home or something.

In Nuremberg, I learned that I apparently emit some sort of insane-person pheromone. Three different crazy people felt the need to speak with me (and just me, not my friend or his girlfriend) while we were there.

The first just rambled at me in German. He seemed happy, and I thought if I just nodded and agreed, he'd go on his way. He did not. He continued talking. I informed him I didn't speak German. He was not deterred. It was awkward.

The next guy approached me in the train station and asked if I was American. I confirmed. We were just sitting w/ some time to kill. He busts out a tattered piece of paper and shows me how the German railroad is planning to sell 25% of it's holdings to the Chinese. He explains that this is particularly insane b/c the Chinese require 3000 alphabetic characters to read the newspaper. I guess he just knew that, as an American, I'd totally care.

The third guy also came up to chat before we got on the train. He rambled something about and African restaurant across the road (or something). I have no idea.

I'm not sure why insane Germans like me, but I guess I appear to be a sympathetic figure.

Anyway, I head to Austria tomoro and back home next Tuesday. Probably won't update much. But, come June 14th I'll likely be in Korea for 2 months, so the blog of Brandon + Asian cultures should return.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Worst 84 hours

10AM - The scratch I felt in my throat yesterday was not, as I'd hoped, the after-effects of too much celebratory vodka and lack of water, I am sick. Not terrible, but my throat is sore.

1PM - I'm at the station waiting for the train. Maybe a little tired, but hopeful that 3 days of forced resting will cure my illness. The idea of it getting worse is unpleasant. At least I now know a Russian-speaking American in Moscow- assuming I survive that long.

1.28PM - I board the train and get to my kupe. I'm dumbfounded by what I see. It had somehow never occurred to me that babies could be on the train. There are 2 in the 6x6 kupe I will live in for 84 hours. It is a twisted joke.

9PM - Baby 2, the 3 year old, decides to welcome me the first night by screaming for hours on end. I am angry at first, but then feel pity as I realize the baby must have some sort of parasite that is painfully eating it alive. There is no other explanation for this amount of screaming. I was precious hours of mp3 player life trying to pretend the baby below my bunk is not dying.

7AM- Babies wake earlier, so do I. The Asian man who was across from me is gone. I assume he couldn't take the babies any longer and just jumped train during the night. I think it might be a wise move. Also, baby 2 has survived the night and appears healthy. I hate her.

11AM - I feel worse. The throat is in pain.

3PM - The damned keyboard toy plays the most annoying song ever for the 15th of 2345 time I will be on the train. I have begun to fantasize about killing the babies. Like, in vivid detail.

4PM - I'm trying to imagine what would happen if I punched the 1-something year old as hard as I could in the stomach. Would this kill it? I mean bodies are resilient. I want to know.

7PM - I eat some of my ramen noodles. To do so I sit downstairs next to the hell-spawns. They're mothers' are nice enough, but there's almost no room to sit at the table since the whole kupe is strewn w/ crap for babies.


10AM - I drift in and out of sleep. The illness makes me more tired, but the babies- either screaming or playing with loud toys counteract this. Also, the bunk is not comfortable. A little too short. A little too hard. Since I pretty much stay in my bunk 24 hours a day, it's getting very old.

2PM - My throat is feeling much better. My left eye, however, has been watering more than normal.

4PM - My eye looks like hell. I don't think it's just lack of good sleep. It's puffy and blood shot. Tears well up continuously. I'm a bit concerned about this.

6PM - I've been keeping my eye shut. This leads to tears entering my sinuses and leaking out my nose. It's irritating and I'm dripping lots of fluid.

9PM - I'm feeling bad enough and worried enough that my eye, which seems to be worsening, is going to be a real problem that I don't really care about the two babies.


6AM - I wake up and cannot open my eyes. I pry open my right eye and go to the bathroom mirror. There is crap lining my eyelids and sealing my left eye shut. It looks like snot. It's gross. I wash it off using tea at the suggestion of one of the mothers.

8AM - My eye is feeling somewhat better. I'm optimistic. My nose is running more now, which I hope is a sign that my body's clearing some crap out. My nose is raw from wiping leaked tears with coarse toilet paper.

1PM - I blow my nose and everything explodes. Something in my sinus gives way and I'm spurting blood from my bunk. I shove toilet paper in my nose and head to the bathroom. The mothers seem concerned.

2PM - One mother has given me cotton balls and the blood has finlly stopped. I still have too much snot and breathing requires the delicate balance of blowing enough snot out of the way without reactivating the blood flow.

5PM - I'm now envisioning torturing the babies. The earlier vision of giving them plastic bags to put over their heads no longer satisfies me. They need to feel pain. I would like to justify each of their cries with pain. It seems like a good sign for my health, that baby-hatred has re-entered my mind.

7PM - I stagger into the restaurant car, looking like hell and starving. I've even very little the past few days. They have a menu. I can't read it. It doesn't matter, they don't have anything I point at on it. I hate Russian restaurant service. I look up in my dictionary 'anything'. I get some soup.

9PM - I use the last of my mp3 player battery trying to drown out the last baby fit. I think I will get a vasectomy.


3AM - The mothers are up and packing. I'm wary that it's a trick. Perhaps my illness killed me and I'm in hell.

4.18AM - We arrive at the Moscow station. I don't know where I am, I don't care- it's the best place I've ever been. Walking off the train is a wonderful sensation. I'm still sickish, but not bad. My eye is feeling/looking better, my throat's good, I'm just snotty. I can handle this. I hate babies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Moscow: the reprieve

I got into Moscow at 4-something this morning. I'm currently in a smoky internet cafe waiting for the metro to open. The last 84 hours or so are amongst the worst I've ever experienced. I will not elaborate currently, but they involved:

Multiple babies
Weird mucas crap sealing my eye shut
fantasies of infanticide
and being on a train for 3+ days straight

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Images from leg 1

I get back on the train and head to Moscow in a few hours. I'm not going to try and really tell about the train ride thus far. I'll probably have time (like 4 days) to write about it soon enough. Here are some lovely pictures, though, just to give you a taste.

View from the train as we get closer to Irkutsk.

Me and my train room/cell mates. Anton, Nina and Dennis. Anton spoke enough English to make everything much simpler. He and Dennis are in the army. Good people.

Toilet. The other one has a hose attached to the sink, so you can kinda shower.

The dining room part of our cabin.

My bed.

Don't worry, I'm well aware how awesome I look.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Vlad II

Vlad 2

So there’s a Versace store a few blocks from my hotel in Vladivostok. This may go along way towards explaining my experiences thus far. Apparently, I’m in the ritzy part of town, which is why restaurants have been unimpressive and overpriced. I guess the coat-check at the Italian place should’ve clued me in, but Madonna videos and a mulleted bartender tricked me.

There’s really no absolute way to tell what part of town you’re in. Here, the nice area has crumbing sidewalks and port-a-potties. When I went to Zurich last year, I thought I was in the nice part of town until I walked past a brothel. Unless you know the whole city, it’s hard to judge an area.

So if I consider the fact that I’m a sloppy looking foreigner (who probably smells a bit) waltzing into high-end restaurants, I can understand the cold reception. If only I knew enough Russian to ask where the working-class part of town was. Then I could go hang out w/ my own kind and not accidently insult all the people who want to shop at Versace and eat in nice restaurants w/o having a dirty traveler spoil their illusions. If only there were a country w/o all these status symbols and class distinctions.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Vladivostok Day 1

Thus far, Russia is not winning me over. My hopes had been building during the cab ride into Vladivostok from the airport. The place seemed a run down. A little past it's prime. Houses on the outskirts were patched together and the roads had potholes. All in all, it seemed crappy enough to have some character. It seemed like a town I would like.

I got dropped off in front of the train station by a parking lot full of grocery vendors. While the cab had been more expensive than I'd hoped, I figured it was worth it to not have to try and figure out the buses I'd have needed to catch to get the 60km in to town. Oh, and by cab, I really mean some dude w/ a car who offered to drive me and I then haggled down from $100 to the still more than I'd hoped for ~$60.

On to the train station. There is nothing in english. There are few symbols or pictures. I copy down the request for a ticket to Irkutsk as shown in my Trans-Siberian Handbook and approach the window. The lady reads it and tells me to go to the ground floor. Ok, there are many doors on the ground floor. I get lucky and the first one I enter has a map showing the route from Vladivostok to Moscow. I assume this is the place. Around the map are listings of different train numbers and from what I can tell their destinations and such. If the schedule of these trains is also somehow encrypted in the table, it is beyond my ability to decipher. Seeing no other signs of information, I take my note and wait in a line. I try to ask the guy next to me if this is the correct window by pointing at my note's request for a ticket and the window. He stares at me.

I get to the window and hand the lady my note. She asks for my passport, and then writes down a departure time and an arrival on May 8th. I say this is fine. She emphatically points at the time and repeats something a couple times. I nod as though I understand. I think she was pointing out that this time was in Vladivostok time, not Moscow time. I hope so anyway.

The ticket sets me back around $250. This sucks. My guide said that a ticket all the way to Moscow for the class I got ranges from $75-$350. When I'd checked online, I'd seen a quote for ~$130 for the leg from Vladivostok to Irkutsk. The guide also indicated that bying tickets at the counter was the cheaper method, though it did warn about fluxuations. Maybe if I had asked about other days, I could've gotten a better deal. Maybe if they posted schedules and prices at the train station I would know. But I couldn't ask and they didn't tell, so I just handed over the cash.

This experience makes me more appreciative of technologies and the automated ticket machines in Japan and Korea. Trains are pretty easy to figure out. Even if you don't know the language, you look up a place on a map, get times and prices and it's pretty clear. Doing this on a computer is easy. You through a person in the mix and suddenly you have to be able to talk.

I then began my hotel search. The closest cheap hotel looked like a craphole and told me they didn't have any rooms, I think. The next cheap one didn't appear to exist (there was a demolished building near where I the map indicated. As I approached the last of the cheaper hotels in the area it started to rain. It turns out the cheap rooms the guide mentioned don't exist, only the more expensive ones w/ the ocean view. I decided that it was worth paying $40 more than I'd hoped to keep my only pair of pants from getting any wetter. So, while I'd been hoping that ~$500 would last me until I got to Moscow, I ended up burning through ~$400 in my first 3 hours in Russia. So much for this being the cheap part of my trip.

The rain lets up and I go looking for food. The first random thing I purchase from a street vendor is delicious and the beer is reasonably priced so Russia gets a couple points there. I wander and nothing looks particularly appealing, though I might've been walking past restaurants unknowingly.

In addition to Vladivostok have a kind of crappy/skank town appeal, the people here remind of some bizzare late 80's/early 90's parallel universe. Guys are rocking mullets and demin jackets, girls wear too much makeup and pants that are too tight. This theme is further supported when I end up in a pretty boring Italian place that's playing old Madonna music videos on the TV.

I kill some more time and take a shower. Around 8 or so I decide to go get a drink. I head off in a new direction from the hotel towards the train station. I see a place with many christmas lights and blinking neons. It's gaudiness reminds me of a pachinko parlor and I assume it's one of the casinos I'd read about. Nope, it's a grocery store.

There was a place that specifically said 'Pub' in English, so I head towards it. Next door at the pizza place, though, there's a live band playing. I go in and catch the last 2 songs (The finale being Bon Jovi's 'It's My Life' which is pretty entertaining w/ a Russian accent). I'd ordered some appetizers with my beer. When the waitress brought the appetizer she said 'enjoy your meal' in the most hateful tone ever. I think she meant to be nice. I'm not sure if it's that she was speaking English or that I was raised only hearing Russian accents from villains or what, but it was really weird.

This made me realize one of the issues thus far with Russia. It seems like business exchanges are very rigid or something. When I'd bought some water at the grocery store the lady had asked me a question as I paid. I shrugged and shook my head saying I didn't understand. Instead of a nod or understanding smile, she turns away and basically ignores me. The waitresses do a similar thing. When my beer was about half gone one appeared and poured the rest of the bottle in, but they seem to avoid interaction and even eye contact. The first lady at the train station who told me to go to the ground floor had also managed convey general contempt in the one sentence she said to me. I guess it'd possible that they all really do hate me, but I think I just don't understand how they operate here.

After this I wander down by the waterfront. There are a lot of people there. There are a lot of beer vendors as well. I get a beer and walk along the boardwalk. A pair of police officers tell me that I can’t have beer here. This seems strange since it’s for sale everywhere and I’ve seen other people drinking it, however, I’m not going to try and argue w/ Russian police. In fact, I’m mildly terrified of the encounter. I have to say, though, these police were far more laid back than any I’ve ever encountered in America. They didn’t ask my name or to see my passport. After I threw the bottle away, one asked if I was alone and if I spoke any Russian. Yes and No. These seemed to strike him as the wrong answers. It seemed like he wanted to say more, but couldn’t find the words. He just shook his head and waved me on.

Needless to say, this put a damper on my exploration ambitions. I walked a little further down the boardwalk then headed back to the hotel. I don’t really know how dangerous Vladivostok is, but it didn’t strike me as particularly bad place to be. Granted it was 11.30 (I thought it was 9.30) but it was an open area w/ lots of people about. When I talk to Russians they seem to be of the opinion that being alone and unable to speak Russian is akin to a death sentence. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I haven’t encountered anything that seemed too sketchy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Seoul Part 2

The hostel I’m staying in has eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast. It’s all self service with a small kitchen area. When I get up, there are a group of Japanese tourists at the table. They kindly point out where everything is for me. They seem to assume that as an American I have never set foot in a kitchen and can’t identify instant coffee or tea. The toaster is on a light setting and when it doesn’t brown the bread in one session (? Is there a word for this?) I put it back in for a second go round. One of the older Japanese women sees this and takes it as evidence that I’m completely retarded and takes it upon herself to help me. She stops the toaster, pulls the bread out and hands me butter. I’m somewhat baffled, but decide it’s not worth attempting to argue. I decide that eggs are out of the question and pick up a waffle (with honey and some cream, awesome) from a vendor on my way out.

I’m staying right by the Geyoung-yeoung palace complex, so I head over to check it out. I arrive just as they’re switching between night and day guard shifts. The palace isn’t inhabited, so the whole process is just for show. They have announcers describing everything in Korean, English and Japanese. It’s a very choreographed and colorful affair. It’s a pretty striking contrast to buses full of cops with riot gear that they use nowadays. I think they should have kept the hats.

The day is rainy. I get an umbrella, but don’t wander far. I go to a museum. I go to lunch. I order some stir fried octopus and am asked if I like hot food. I do not, so I order the mild dish. It is not mild. It is horrible. I am starving, but eating the food is painful. You don’t actually taste anything b/c your lips are burning. And your tongue. And throat. I eat about half the plate at which point the hunger pains are less than the mouth-burning pains. I leave and stop in a nearby dunkin donuts where I am confident I can find palatable food. I get a chick donut. Dunkin Donuts is much classier in Seoul than Boston.

Later, back at the hostel. I’m on my computer when a Japanese lady (it’s a holiday in Japan, so there are Japanese tourists everywhere) staying at the hostel comes in. With the hostel manager acting as translator, she tells me there is a parade starting soon and invites me to join her. Sounds like a plan. I head towards the center of town w/ Yuko.

Apparently it’s the first day of the High Seoul Festival. There’s a parade and an elaborate stage area. The parade route, however, is not blocked off. There are just masses of people wandering around the street. Some are in costumes. Many have posters and flags. There are also armies of police everywhere.

Finally, the parade starts. But since the routes not blocked off, they just have people in the front that kind of push they’re way through the crowd. Protestors scream and wave posters at the parade participants. I wonder if the cops will recognize that I am not involved if/when a riot breaks out.

After the parade arrives at the stage area, performers come out and sing and dance. At any break in the music, protestors (making up at least half the crowd) chant and yell. Yuko clearly doesn’t like the protestors and police presence. She indicates that she’s ready to go and, since the novelty of Koreans in pink costumes singing and dancing has worn off, I’m fine with this. We go to a nearby restaurant and have bland soup. This time w/ beef and rice. Korean food is seriously disappointing.

Yuko heads back to the hostel and I decide to see what Seoul has to offer on a Saturday night. Having no knowledge or guide about Seoul, I’d been planning on going to the cool little theater district that I’d discovered earlier. It’s getting late though and rather than deal with making sure I don’t miss the subway, I decide to stay close by.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot going on in this neighborhood. The places that have ‘Hof’ signs (I think Hof just means alcohol, but I’m not 100%) are just restaurants without bars and I don’t really want to sit alone at a table. I end up just going into a nondescript place a block from the hostel. It’s on the 2nd floor and in the stairwell I run into a pair of Korean kids who tell me they go to the University of Michigan. They also ask if I work there. They’re kinda drunk.

I’m sitting alone at a table when the 2 from the stairwell come into the restaurant place and sit down w/ 2 other Korean guys. They invite me to join them. Turns out they all met at the University of Michigan, but are back to serve their 2 years in the military. They seem genuinely excited to have a foreigner to speak English with (all four are fluent) and I’m glad to have company.

They’re curious about what I think of Korea and how it stacks up against Japan. They’re adamant that I should ignore stereotypes of Koreans (I explain that in Missouri there aren’t Korean stereotypes b/c we don’t recognize such fine distinctions amongst Asians) and insist that Koreans are very friendly. After a while they say they’re moving to another place nearby and invite me along. We lose the two from the stairwell, Alex and Tony, at this point (Actually Tony’s been out of commission pretty much the whole time. Though when I asked his name, he perked up long enough to say “Tony, like Tony Montana or Tony the Tiger”. )

So, this leaves Sunny, Young and I to head to the next place. It’s another little restaurant down an alley. We order some food and small bottle some sweet liquor. We take shots and eat the first decent Korean food (excepting the waffles) I’ve had. I learn a bit about why all the police are around. By 2AM or so, the restaurant is packed. Apparently, it stays open all night and people just eat and drink till dawn. Around 3 we decide to call it a night and I head back to the hostel.

The next day I do a lot of wandering, trying to see more of Seoul. It seems much more spread out than Tokyo. I found a sweet Korean market and if it weren’t for my limited luggage capacity I definitely would’ve been buying some socks w/ Korean celebrities on them. Come June, they will be mine.